2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Movement Science Fellows: Learning to Teach About Discovery

When Associate Professor Andrew Gordon was an undergraduate student at Hampshire College, the most valuable experiences he had in learning were those that allowed him to actively explore the answers to his own questions. Given that understanding, as a professor in Movement Sciences, he routinely involves graduate students from the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences in all of his research projects and brings current research into his classroom.

Gordon wanted to offer this experience to even more people. What better way than to bring the learning and discovery process to science educators who are usually required to learn about scientific content, but normally do not get involved in actual research projects. Inspired by his memories as a high school student doing "workbook recipe labs" for science that "didn't require imagination," Gordon came up with a plan to change that for some lucky students.

"TC has a strong science education component," he explained. "I thought it would be interesting to form a project with their program in which we take science education students into our lab and we teach them about our research."

Gordon received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to implement his idea, and, in cooperation with O. Roger Anderson, Professor of Natural Sciences, set up a fellowship for three science education students per year. With matching support from Teachers College and the Department of Scientific Foundations, the first group of students was selected in September 1998.

One of those students, Wendy Frazier, applied for the fellowship as a way to understand science "in a more meaningful way than just learning about it from a textbook." Frazier, whose goal is to teach pre-service teachers at a college level, says the experience affected the way she talks to future teachers about their lessons and in the way she develops her own lessons. "The nature of science is to question and test," Frazier said. "Before, I was trying to teach where they would do all the same things and I knew what would happen. Now, I'm more willing to do things with more unknowns and allow kids to discover and explore things that are not planned."

In addition to completing a one-year rotation in the Movement Science lab, fellows take two courses related to the lab research. "Fellows will also work on a project with me to study how sensory information is used for the control of hand movement in healthy individuals, as well as individuals with physical disabilities," Gordon said. Once they have completed their tenure, the fellows are expected to share their research experiences with other science education students and discuss ways to apply their experiences to education.

This is the second year that the fellowship has been awarded. Wendy Frazier and Evelyn Ericksson successfully completed last year's fellowship. Frazier's participation in the research being done by a postdoctoral fellow resulted in her being listed as a co-author on a peer-reviewed publication.

This year, the fellowship was awarded to three students: Karen Iverson, Robert Mirchin and Nicole Pisano. Mirchin's participation in the program is particularly meaningful. He is hoping to bridge work in movement science and science education in order to develop science lab curricula that will allow children with psychical handicaps to better participate. Mirchin, himself, has hemiplegic cerebral palsy.

The fact that a majority of TC students are women, and one-third are minorities could also result in representatives of these groups, who are traditionally underrepresented in science, participating in this project. Gordon hopes the experience will serve to motivate the fellows and the future teachers they work with to develop a curriculum exciting enough to allow students to come up with their own questions about science.

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